Modern version of an age-old attempt to keep information secret
AT A TENDER 24, Malan Joubert is already an automatic member of that club where computer nerds such as Steve Jobs and Mark Shuttleworth share secret handshakes and discuss topics like “hardware configuration”. Joubert is the founding member of FireID and is lending credibility to fledgling Silicon Cape’s status as South Africa’s version of Silicon Valley. The company was the first in the world to develop a system that provides a one-time password (OTP) authentication solution by generating secure passwords on users’ cellphones.
In non-geek speak, this time: it’s the technology that allows Internet users to receive PINs or passwords on their cellphones to log on to online banking or other websites. And it’s more secure than its competitors’ technology, thanks to Joubert and his nerds-in-arms, Justin Stanford and Erik van Vlaanderen.
While still a student at the University of Stellenbosch, Joubert was approached by Stanford, who was running an anti-virus distribution business at the time, to help expand its product line. Joubert and Stanford considered importing the small hardware devices some banks still issue for online banking passwords. However, the devices were expensive and Malan and Stanford realised it would be a cumbersome exercise to distribute to a mass market.
“So I played around with it a bit and rebuilt them,” says Joubert. “We then started toying with the feasibility of putting the device on to a cellphone.”
In a country where most residents own a mobile phone, the concept went viral. “We got serious about funding when competitors started moving in on the market,” says Joubert.